Hopson Contract Extension Faces Tight Timeline

By Bill Dries

The Shelby County Schools board will discuss Tuesday, May 27, an extension of Dorsey Hopson’s three-year contract to be superintendent of the school system.

The Shelby County Schools board is expected to discuss an extension of superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s three-year contract.

And a vote could come at the board’s June 17 work session, if not sooner. Under state law, the body has up to 45 days before the August school board elections to extend the contract or leave the matter for consideration by the next school board.

State law says school boards can hire a superintendent under a contract that is up to four years in duration, and that contract can be renewed.

“No school board, however, may either terminate, without cause, or enter into a contract with any director of schools during a period extending from 45 days prior to the general school board election until 30 days following the election,” the law states.

The 45th day before the Aug. 7 election day is Monday, June 23.

With the new school board term that begins Sept. 1, the body converts from a seven-member body covering all of Shelby County to a nine-member body covering Memphis and unincorporated areas of the county, but not the six suburban towns and cities.

The six suburbs have formed their own municipal school districts and elected school boards for each.

Under terms of the complex redistricting, two of the nine school board district seats will not be on the ballot – Districts 2 and 4, held by chairman Kevin Woods and member Teresa Jones. Of the seven school board seats on the August ballot, three are held by incumbents seeking re-election.

Woods said Thursday that school board members would likely discuss details of a contract extension at the Tuesday meeting.

He commented after a public hearing seeking comments on the possibility of a contract extension and on Hopson’s “80-90-100” reform goal, which the board has adopted.

The goal seeks to accomplish three things by 2025: having 80 percent of Shelby County Schools students college- or career-ready, raising the graduation rate to 90 percent, and having 100 percent of graduates enrolled in some post-secondary learning opportunity.

Most of the comments from the dozen or so citizens in attendance favored a contract extension for Hopson.

“I do not want to see us flip-flop superintendents,” said Beverly Davis, a Whitehaven High School parent. “Give our superintendent the time to see this plan through.”

Others echoed her remarks, urging the board to avoid a change in superintendents after three or four years, with each new superintendent coming in with a new and different reform plan.

“It is ludicrous for us to continue to go through this process,” said the Rev. Derrick Joyce.

Hopson is not an educator by trade. The Whitehaven High School graduate returned to Memphis in 2008 from being legal counsel to two Georgia school systems to become legal counsel to Memphis City Schools.

Just months before the August 2013 start of the only year of the schools merger, Hopson became interim superintendent of the two legacy school systems when Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken negotiated a contract buyout with the merged school board. Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash negotiated a similar buyout of his contract months earlier.

Hopson changed his mind as he and his staff began planning not only the start of the schools merger, but also the expected demerger in the 2014-2015 school year and Hopson’s plan to close a number of schools to “rightsize” the post-demerger system. He sought a three-year contract, which the school board approved.

School board member David Reaves – who leaves the board when his term ends Sept. 1 to become a Shelby County Commissioner – credited Hopson with bringing together the transitional 23-member school board that had “two factions that were divided.”

Former school board member Freda Williams, who is seeking a return to the board in the August elections, praised Hopson for “standing in the gap” amidst “turmoil which no one could imagine.”

Jones, who chaired the public forum, voted against Hopson’s school closing recommendations but supports a contract extension.

“The disagreement does not mean a lack of support for what he does,” said Jones, who, like Hopson, is an attorney. “I’m not bothered by the fact that he’s also one,” she added, saying the school system is in “an important time – a time of change.”